Five Tips on What Makes a Killer Cookbook Idea

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One of the classes I taught at Rancho La Puerta last week (between hiking, eating sensational vegetarian cuisine and taking a cooking class with Denise Vivaldo) was “What’s A Good Idea for a Book?”

Agents and editors often give the same answer to his question: “You’ve got to have something to say.” And what does that mean, exactly? Here are five definitions:

1. The subject is timely. While at the IACP conference in Portland, Literary Agent Lisa Ekus mentioned that Barnes & Noble made “vegan” a permanent category in its cookbook section. What’s the next hot topic and are you part of it?

2. The idea is about your area of expertise. Do you write extensively on your topic? Do you speak on it or teach cooking classes? Are you obsessed? Good.

3. If you’re not a recognized expert, you’re passionate about the subject. Communicating intense enthusiasm, excitement, and knowledge can sometimes carry a book idea.

4. Your idea is well focused. Lack of focus keeps many potential authors from moving forward. If you want to write about “everything” to do with the subject, the task becomes overwhelming. Take a piece of your idea. That’s why there’s a book called Vegan Brunch vs. The Complete Guide to Vegan Cooking.

5. You have a new approach. Michael Ruhlman did it with Ratio, his book on cooking formulas.

Want to learn more? Take my 2-hour teleclass Wednesday night: “How to Write a Killer Cookbook Proposal,” or my Berkeley, Ca. 5-week class “Want to Sell Your Book? Write a Fabulous Book Proposal.”

And if you’ve got a question about book proposals, pose it below and I’ll answer.

Photography by CNP Digital Studio, courtesy of Bon Appetit.


  1. Louise says


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      Louise, I am using Feedburner from Google, so please unsubscribe from Feedblitz. Thanks.

  2. says

    Great tips–thanks! But I should mention that the only reason Isa Moskowitz wrote Vegan Brunch was because she had ALREADY done the equivalent of The Complete Guide to Vegan Cooking (ie, Veganomicon). đŸ˜‰

    • diannejacob says

      Well that is a very good point, Ricki. I suppose the market isn’t altogether closed to a competitor to it, but it’s probably more effective to pitch a sandwich book instead.